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Spain: Gibraltar Prolonging Dispute

July 26, 1999

MADRID, Spain (AP) _ Spain today accused the British colony of Gibraltar of claiming an independent voice and said this is blocking efforts to resolve the long-running dispute over its sovereignty.

``It is one thing to defend and protect legitimate interests,″ Foreign Minister Abel Matutes, wrote in an article published in the newspaper El Pais, ``and quite another to convert Gibraltar into an independent nation.″

Spain claims sovereignty over the 2.5-square-mile promontory on the southern Spanish coast and says the colony is an anachronism in modern Europe.

It further argues that Gibraltar enjoys unfair privileges as a duty-free haven and that it’s also a hotbed of money laundering.

But, Matutes said, Spain’s efforts to reach a negotiated solution with Britain over these issues are being hampered by Gibraltar’s attempts to represent itself independently of London.

``The attitude of (Gibraltar’s) leaders will take us nowhere, unless their intention is to hand the conflict down to their children,″ Matutes wrote.

Matutes also complained that London is allowing Gibraltar to go its own way, ``apparently letting its responsibilities drop.″

He said Gibraltar was claiming an independent role in the European Union. Matutes cited a fishing rights dispute between the territory and neighboring towns in southern Spain that was resolved with direct negotiations that bypassed both London and Madrid.

The British Embassy in Madrid was not immediately available to comment on Matutes’ article.

Britain says Gibraltar’s status should not be altered against the wishes of the rock’s 30,000 inhabitants, who polls show overwhelmingly support remaining part of Britain.

Gibraltar’s government spokesman said the article was a misrepresentation of points made by the territory’s chief minister Peter Caruana who urged a less colonial relationship with Britain.

``We have consistently denied that we want to be independent,″ spokesman Francis Cantos insisted.

He also insisted on direct involvement in any negotiations over the territory’s future, ``The dialogue should not be structured as bilateral between London and Madrid,″ he said.